Freshman Gabrielle Mardis made the most of her collegiate debut, winning the Zaxby’s Open Friday and leading the No. 3 Milligan College women’s cross country team to victory in the first race of the season.
Sophomore Tyler Bates landed fourth overall to lead the No. 18 Milligan men to a runner-up finish behind host Tusculum University.
“I was really encouraged by both squads today,” head coach Chris Layne said. “They had to compete in really tough conditions and they handled themselves with a lot of composure.”
FRESHMEN WOMEN STEP UP IN SEASON OPENER
Milligan ran without its top four on both sides, which gave the underclassmen, specifically the freshman class, the opportunity to step up, and step up they did. Mardis ran to a time of 20:21 in the 5K race, winning by 25 seconds and leading a group of four other Buffs in the top 15. Three of those four were freshmen: Avery DeWolf finished third with a time of 21:02; Kelsey Mowrey finished seventh with a time of 21:19; and Makayla Gilder finished 15th with a time of 21:55.
“It was really neat to see a number of our freshmen contribute at a high level,” Layne said. “Obviously it was rewarding to see Gabby get the win, and I think this will give her and a lot of the newcomers confidence moving forward.”
Junior Hannah Bell also scored points for the Buffs, placing 14th in 21:50. Milligan won by 12 points as a team.
MEN PLACE THREE IN TOP 10, FOUR IN TOP 13
Bates, an All-American in track & field last spring in the marathon, covered the 5K course in 16:51, 17 seconds off the individual leader. He was one of three in the top 10 as junior Seth Nicol grabbed seventh in 17:01 and freshman Samir Koko took 10th in 17:12.
Junior Cory Aulich and freshman Ethan Pfister rounded out the scoring for Milligan, running to 13th and 25th, respectively, with times of 17:16 and 17:58. As a team, Milligan scored 58 points, 15 ahead of North Greenville University (73 points) in third place and 18 points behind Tusculum (40 points) in first place. Tusculum was running on its home course, Holston Home Cross Country Course.
“We held out our top four or five on each side and this really gave some of our younger folks an opportunity to step up,” Layne said. “This also gave us a chance to get a look at who might end up running in our 5-10 spots.”
Milligan will travel to Swannanoa, North Carolina, for the UNC Asheville Cross Country Invitational Friday, Sept. 21. Women are scheduled to race at 5:45 p.m. Men are scheduled to race at 6:15 p.m.